Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Distraught classmates of victims given counselling

School children weep as the bodies of the McElhill family leave the burnt-out home last night
School children weep as the bodies of the McElhill family leave the burnt-out home last night

Classmates of the children killed in the Omagh fire horror were given counselling prior to the police removing the victims' bodies from their burnt-out home.

The disclosure that school friends were receiving counselling came as heads of the schools attended by three of the children paid tribute to them.

Katrina McGettigan, of St Conor's primary school, and Donal McDermott, of Sacred Heart College were yesterday supported by Education Minister Catriona Ruane as they spoke outside the primary school, just yards from the devastated family home in Lammy Crescent.

Arthur McElhill died in the blaze that was detected at 5am on Tuesday with his partner Lorraine McGovern and their five children Caroline (13), James (10), Bellina (4), Clodagh (18 months) and baby James.

Ms McGettigan said that Sean, a P4 pupil who was soon to make his first Holy Communion, and Bellina, who was in P1, were "a joy to teach".

She said 13-year-old Caroline had been a former pupil.

She said: "This is a very difficult time and it's difficult to describe the sense of loss and sadness since we learned of the tragic death of the McElhill family on Tuesday. Sean was in P4 and was preparing for his first Holy Communion, Bellina was in P1 and was beginning her educational journey here with us at St Conor's.

"The sadness is compounded by the fact that Caroline was a past pupil. The children were a joy to teach and will be sadly missed by the other pupils and the entire staff of the school.

"They were beautiful children and we only have very positive memories.

"This has been made more difficult by the fact that the house is in such close proximity to the school. It seems we will have a visual reminder of the tragedy for a long time to come."

She said that the school, which has been closed since Tuesday, would reopen today and that "the heartfelt sympathies of the entire staff, board of governors and parents were with the entire McElhill and McGovern family circle".

Mr McDermott said the school community had been "traumatised" by Caroline's death, and that students, particularly her Year 9 classmates, had received counselling from the NSPCC, Contact Youth, a specialist team from the Western Education and Library Board and the school chaplain.

He added that a special assembly had been held and further counselling sessions were taking place.

He also pledged his support to Ms McGettigan and said both schools would continue to support one another.

Monsignor Joseph Donnelly, who said prayers as the bodies of the family were removed yesterday, said: "We are all very aware of the deep impact of tragedy has made on the community.

"Hopefully there will be some element of closure now that the remains have been released and moved away from the area.

"We pray the community will be able to come to terms with this tragedy in the weeks ahead," he said.

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